Tag Archives: garden

Rowleyanus, not “rowdy anus.”

At work, I have a reputation for a green thumb. This is not true. I only keep plants alive longer than most people do. I have killed dozens of plants, whereas one of my coworkers, who really does have a green thumb, can reproduce them from seemingly random cuttings, leaves, and broken stems, and bring them to bloom.

Haworthia_turgida_var_longibracteata_1We take care of our plants in a rather nice conference room with nearly floor to ceiling southwest-facing windows. Plants love it, and light-loving succulents flourish, such as a species of Haworthia that looks just like the one pictured up here that even I seem to be able to keep alive, mostly because it likes being heavily watered.

The windowsill, which is mid-calf level, is actually a grate over the heating elements. The grate has holes about half an inch across.

This matters because I would love to have a Senecio rowleyanus, also known as a string of pearls plant, pictured lower down on this page. They are unique for their genuinely spherical leaves. They would love the sun and heat of our conference room windowsill.

Senecio rowleyanusWouldn’t you love to have one? If you have sun and a place to hang a pot and no children or pets that will eat the little grapelike and reportedly slightly toxic leaves, do get one here.

But unlike Haworthia, which stay nicely low in their pot, string of pearls plants have vines hanging down, as you see here, and when the leaves fall off, they roll around, and would go though the conference room grate onto the heating elements below. Having the fallen meaty leaves getting cooked by unreachable heating elements is really not a good idea.

You may be getting tired of hearing about the deficits of my little SRO, so it is good to be able to reassure you that there is actually a bright fluorescent lamp over the sink, and a counter around the sink wide enough for little plants, like African violets, which live a long time, occasionally reblooming, before, as with all plants, I eventually kill them, usually by overwatering and sometimes by underwatering.

However, the sink counter is no good for vines, and the light is not bright enough for succulents. Senecio rowleyanus, which I have tried to grow under it, rapidly turns into dead strings surrounded by drying and wrinkled pearls lying on the counter. And yes, I feel guilty about killing living things that are brought to life not for food but for decoration.

So please understand that if you have the conditions to make a Senecio rowleyanus grow, you have the opportunity to keep alive a really special, admirable, and enviable plant.

Eden remembered

Once upon a time, I had a community garden plot. I cherished it very much the first few years.

Sun Gold closeupI grew huge amounts of tomatoes. My coworkers and I were particularly fond of the Sun Gold tomato, which has a remarkably intense flavor. Sun Gold is famous among tomato fanciers because of this flavor, and because it produces extraordinarily prolifically, and because it splits, so that it is not available in stores. If you have the chance to grow Sun Golds, do it. If you have a friend who grows Sun Golds, beg for some. They’re that good.

But eventually, what disgruntled community gardeners everywhere universally call “the politics” crept into my consciousness. Every gardening community seems to have its own “the politics.” For me, it seemed that whatever I grew seemed to be criticized for one reason or another by TPTB, the gardeners who had been there since the creation of the community garden decades before. One plant attracted rats, one attracted birds that would leave seed hulls on the ground, another species was “inappropriate for a community garden.” Over the next few years, I neglected my garden more and more as the joy leaked away and I did not feel like going there any more. I did not have the stamina to handle “the politics.” And it turned out that my lack of energy was not only due to “the politics.” I had cancer. So I gave up the plot.

Masaccio_-_The_Expulsion_from_the_Garden_of_Eden_(detail)_-_WGA14180The last season I had the plot, I was so resentful and rebellious toward TPTB that I quietly planted a blackberry plant, just a single stem about six inches tall. This was not allowed in the garden, because raspberries and blackberries supposedly are invasive and grow into other people’s plots. I “knew” this, whether or not it is true, because TPTB criticized someone else who planted a raspberry bush. So I planted the little sprout in the farthest corner of my plot away from other people’s plots. And promptly someone snipped the little plant down to the ground. I consoled myself with the thought that I had not been the only gardener to have been bullied by TPTB.

I still wish I could have one of those blackberry plants again. You see, it was a Doyle’s Thornless Blackberry, which the sellers claim are amazingly prolific. I wanted one because although tomatoes are excellent, particularly Sun Golds, they have to be planted every year. A blackberry bush is perennial. And while most blackberry plants are full of thorns, Doyle’s are, as the name says, thornless.

handful of Doyle's blackberriesDoyle’s Thornless Blackberry plants, say the proprietors, produce gallons of sweet, juicy fruit, and grow in every state. They are the plant of dreams. If the sellers are telling the truth, they are to blackberries what Sun Golds are to tomatoes. The proprietors have been promoting them heavily in recent weeks, because they can be planted in the autumn, and this is why at this time these plants have brought back my memories of when the garden was an innocent pleasure.

Growing one’s own food has a certain appeal to the imagination. The very idea of stepping out of one’s door and being able to pick food is Edenic. I remember walking up to my plot early in the morning and stuffing sweet, ripe Sun Golds into my face as fast as I could down them, and still being able to fill containers to take to work. Chains of twenty-five tomatoes would hang down from the six-foot plants like strings of Christmas jingle bells. If I had a Doyle’s Thornless Blackberry bush, I could do that again, but with fruit.

This sort of lusciousness is why community gardens normally have a years-long waiting list. But I dream bigger than a community garden plot has space. I wish I could have fruit trees and nut trees, berries and grapes, a bounty raining down on me, a cornucopia to supply all the neighbors.

But that is almost as much work as being a farmer, because essentially it is being a farmer. And given the amount of land that takes, it is not going to happen in an urban setting. I don’t want to live in the country, anyway; I am a city girl who wants to go to the diner across the street for my sub sandwich on the way home.

But if I had a community garden plot without “the politics,” I would grow a Doyle’s Thornless Blackberry bush. If you have a little space in your yard and there are no TPTB like a homeowners’ association telling you not to, I want you to try growing a Doyle’s Thornless Blackberry plant for your own mouthful of Eden before the fall of the human race.

Seeds of longing

I really hope you have the space and the will to grow this amazing plant, because I don’t.

All corn is in some ways difficult for the home gardener, because it is so tall and its roots strike deep. It needs significant horizontal space for its leaves to spread out, and needs to be grown in a patch of several, so that it pollinates correctly. It is too big to be grown in the average community garden plot. Maybe you have the land for this.

Glass Gem CornBecause it looks so striking compared to ordinary corn, Glass Gem corn gives me wild dreams of the countryside, of air and light and space, quiet and solitude. My vacation on a farm this summer gave me my first taste of rural life, and it awakened in me longings I never knew I had. Glass Gem brings back memories of grass and goats and trees, feral chickens, sweet air untouched by belching eighteen-wheelers, and dark, quiet nights unbroken by ambulances, fire trucks, car alarms, and rowdy passersby.

I live in the inner city in a brownstone. Here, an apartment advertised as “garden view” is actually a basement apartment whose dreary window is shadowed by the three or four feet of bushes between the building and the iron fence. I am fortunate enough to live above ground level, but as I mentioned, my place is very tiny, a spot in a dovecote. My neighbors and I live so much cheek by jowl that when I get a cold, they stop me in the hall and ask how I’m doing; they’ve heard my coughs.

So Glass Gem corn is an example of something I have no space for. “But you could buy a packet of seeds to look at,” my packratting interlocutor objects. Yes, for a week’s wonderment, and then I would know that year by year, the little sparks of life in those seeds will wink out in the name of novelty, unfulfilled in their silent longing for sun and rain and good soil, while the packet slides down the inside of a box of chowder. Ultimately, my coveting this corn is the same urge that makes toddlers eat colorful detergent packets, and it is no more helpful to combatting my hoarding than the detergent is to an esophagus.

I choose to live in an urban dovecote. The convenience of the location is unparallelled in terms of proximity to work and to conveniences like the post office and the grocery. There is much less to clean. And a small place makes it possible for me to put more in savings and have more disposable income than otherwise.

But there are serious tradeoffs, and one of them is that I have no garden, much less one of a size suitable to grow Glass Gem corn and other wonders. I have to say no to it. I hope you will put it on your list for next spring – please tell me if you do.

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